End Of The Drought - The OWL Is Back And Better Than Ever
The post-2020 Overwatch League off-season lasted for a gruelling 188 days, the longest in league history, and it certainly felt that way. From September to April, the OWL community simply had nothing else to do but speculate for anything and everything that could potentially happen next year. Waiting around for the 2021 season was like wandering in the middle of a desert in Texas, hoping to find something that could help quench your thirst. For seven months, fans braced through that heavy drought, practically growing delirious at the sheer longevity and monotony that accompanied the wait and the ultimate uncertainty that awaited them when the clock finally ran out.
Then, finally, April 16 rolled around, and after over half a year of downtime, everyone’s favourite YouTube broadcast had returned. Seeing the premiere of the 2021 season felt like salvation, that finally, after what seemed like an endless amount of time, the thing we all wanted and anticipated was back on all of our streams. Watching the Overwatch League’s opening weekend is exactly how Stanley Yelnats and his Camp Greenlake compatriots must’ve felt when it finally started raining in Holes.
It wasn’t just that the Overwatch League had returned; it was that it had come back even better than ever. Competitively, this opening weekend was top-notch; almost every game had something to offer. Many of the teams that debuted this weekend played it close or gave performances that delivered more than enough to give fans absolutely incredible matches to talk about for weeks to come. Houston vs Dallas and San Francisco, Toronto vs Atlanta, or Chengdu vs Shanghai, are just a few examples of series that left fans completely stunned and speechless online.
However, it was not just the matches themselves that made OWL’s 2021 debut a spectacle. No, it was something that no one expected to be improved upon this upcoming season, or at least, they weren’t actively thinking about it at all. In fact, if you weren’t really paying attention, you might have missed it. What really made OWL 2021 come back and be bigger and better than ever is the impressive number of improvements the team made to the broadcast and to the production.
OWL’s 2021 broadcast feels finely tuned and lovely crafted. You can tell the team really sat down and thought about what improvements needed to be made in order to have an overall better product and a better show for their esport. With the sudden switch to online play last year, the quality of the league's production noticeably dropped, and really it wasn't until the Grand Finals weekend where significant strides made their appearance. However, it's a whole new ball game for 2021, and even though the league is still online, everything feels fresher. While, some of these things vary in terms of how noticeable they were, there are some clear highlights from the upgrade in quality this year.
For instance, the most obvious example that everybody has been talking about has been the inclusion of player cams during the matches. In the past, the audience only got access to the cameras during breaks, pauses, or for selected highlights. Now, we get to see the emotion and reaction from the players live, as they happen if they’re being spectated on the broadcast. Moments like Matthew "super" DeLisi yelling as he gets Earthshattered by Myung-heum "JJANGGU" Cho, or Xander "Hawk" Domecq’s frustration while he gets staggered for all of eternity on Temple of Anubis, make watching the Overwatch League that much more fun this season.
You get to see the pop offs, the excitement, the devastation, the focus, all of the emotion that comes from playing at the top level is now there on full display. It can’t be understated how something like that can really elevate the overall quality of a game and match; you get to feel what the players are feeling, and that makes it all the more intense. It’s one of the more obvious improvements to OWL 2021, and hopefully, it’s something that can be replicated for the APAC broadcast as well.
Alternatively, there are a couple of that people might not realise unless it’s been pointed out. Did you notice how they removed the half time breaks? Yep, no longer is the broadcast overly extended for another ten minutes because the show takes a two-minute break after map two, spends time with the desk for five minutes, and then takes another three-minute break after that segment before map three.
It was sluggish, and it used to cut up the action needlessly for a series. It also made watching a lower-stakes or mid-table game all the more exhausting and mind-numbing to get through. For example, watch the downtime in between maps two and three in its entirety for this series between the Boston Uprising and Toronto Defiant from 2020.
It was just way too much, and the time spent on downtime without much happening, really added up to the overall length of a series. That Boston vs Toronto game was only four maps, but the broadcast lasts for almost two hours; it became way too much when it started getting added across the whole season, especially for matches that were taking place entirely online.
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This year, the production team made sure that the broadcast is dedicated to bringing the viewers the action as quickly as possible, to make sure watching is as fun as it can be. They’ve been doing a great job with it, too because just look at how they fill in the breaks between the maps now. In previous years it was almost always just a blank countdown with the current score on display, and with the upcoming maps in the series.
Now, they feature a nice and calming soundtrack set to some beautiful shots of Overwatch’s scenery. It’s so simple but effective; it’s actually incredible how it hasn’t been introduced before. Overwatch is a beautiful game, and showcasing that while there’s no game happening is kind of brilliant in its own right.
Overall, the Overwatch League’s production has been stepped up massively this season. The product itself is being crafted into a whole broadcast that is enjoyable and truly showcases the best of what the esport has to offer. Every game and every scene has to improve as it runs along its course, and with the Overwatch League being the pinnacle of what the game has to offer competitively, the broadcast surrounding it has to offer it too.
Here’s to even further improvements and creative ideas from the production team this year.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment